Interview with Kate Fialkowski

Kate, as you know that Temple University was one of the first educational institutions in the country to take disabilities studies seriously. In fact, as far back as 1982, Temple University Press published Irving Zola's seminal Missing Pieces. Given that history, how does it feel to be the Director of Academic Programs for Temple's Institute on Disabilities and what kinds of challenges do you face?

KF: Coming to work at Temple and the Institute on Disabilities, especially in Academic Programs, is "homecoming" of sorts. I think maybe a good place to begin to answer your question is located at the intersection of my personal history, the Disability Rights history, and Temple University. By way of example, in the 1960's my mother Leona Fialkowski tried for years to get dental care for my brothers with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and found, by calling every dentist in the Philadelphia phone book, no one would accept my brothers as patients. As a result of her perseverance, in 1974 she worked with Temple University's School of Dentistry to establish one of the first educational program's for dentists specializing in dental care for children and adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. Today dental care seems extraordinarily obvious but in those times individuals with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities were almost exclusively segregated in institutions like Pennhurst, far beyond "the Margins of Citizenship" (to borrow from Allison Carey and referencing another Temple University Press publication). As an historical and painfully illustrative point of reference, it was perceived that the more efficient and effective course was full mouth extraction – a solution which did not necessitate any particular specialization and sometimes, not even a dentist.

In those early years of the Intellectual and Developmental Disability Rights movement progressive universities, like Temple University, worked together with families as incubators of innovation in a newly burgeoning field of academic thought around the emancipation of people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities from institutional settings into the community. It is an awesome responsibility to walk in the shadow of that history.

You mention Zola's work, Missing Pieces, as a context. I would say that Zola's work represents part of the both the fabulous opportunity and the responsibility of the Institute and Disability Studies at Temple University. Place gives context and shapes meaning in Zola's work and I am thinking of places he mentions such as the rehabilitation center, sheltered workshops, the "Adaptation Room", the Village, and others. Zola's travels through spaces help give form to his reflective internal voice. So, what does Disability Studies bring to the place/space of Higher Education and the campus? I'll choose two examples: 1) Among other things, on our campuses, we have to offer a place of tangible-intangible welcome to students, faculty, staff and community visitors with disabilities. We have to foster an atmosphere in which people feel comfortable to self-identify (disclose, express, exhibit). This welcome hopefully not only supports the person but also provides significant content and opportunities to stimulate the inner person in their own becoming and to be(come) active co-creators in a dynamic campus Disability Culture. 2) My pleasure is to privilege first-person perspectives in "pre-service" professional preparation as a talk with/talk back to the professions, creating fissures in the curricular frames animating the often static hypothetical "disabled patient/client/resident/student" with actual lived experience of persons with disabilities. Our goal is to offer perspectives that expand traditional professional teachings and allow disability to influence the development of the field. The combination of making welcomed and providing room for the first person voice implicates the disability identity among the professionals.

How does it feel to be the Director of Academic Programs at the Institute on Disability at Temple University? Well, it is humbling, a tremendous responsibility, and presents exhilarating potential opportunities. I follow in the footsteps of wonderful contributors such as Diane Bryen, Michael Dorn, Kelly George, Ann Keefer, Carol Marfisi, David Mitchell, Seglinde Shapiro, and others. I owe them all a debt of gratitude for what they accomplished and the artifacts on which we can continue to build.

To potential Temple students who might have an interest in majoring in Disability Studies, what are some of the courses and programs you could tell them about that might excite their interest?

KF: Temple is an exciting place for Disability Studies! First, a cultural response. Temple University strives to be a welcoming space. As an urban educational center, our campus prides itself on diversity of population, a diversity inclusive of students, faculty, and staff with disabilities. This is important consideration – we are not only a place to study disability but also a place for persons with disabilities to be co-creators in the educational environment.

One example of disability as a creative educational force is the Institute on Disabilities' Leadership and Career Studies program for students with Intellectual Disabilities and/or Autism. As post-IDEA students (students who started school with an education entitlement to inclusion) started graduating from High School, they wanted to undertake the natural next step – going to college with their peers, participating in college social activities, and using college as a pathway to employment. Higher Education became another educational frontier for students with IDD. Small pilot programs started emerging at colleges and universities around the country. These programs received a boost with the 2008 reauthorization of the Higher Education for All Act which included specific provisions to ensure equal college opportunities for students with disabilities. At Temple, in 2005 we met this demand with a 2-year program called the "Academy for Adult Learning." Again, it was the students who pressed for more, demanding a 4-year program and last year (2017) the Institute on Disabilities commenced a 4-year program called "Leadership and Career Studies" through which students attain a Certificate of Completion through the College of Education. The revised program includes weekly employment experiences located both on/off Temple's Main Campus along with monthly personal enrichment sessions for independent living skill-building.

Other cultural examples are the disability-related faculty groups. We have a Faculty Senate Committee on Disability Concerns whose mission is to look at both concerns for faculty with disabilities as well as how to support students with disabilities in their classrooms. We also have an Interdisciplinary Faculty Council on Disability who's mission is to foster collaboration across Temple university on disability-related projects. This council includes members who have a strong disability identity, members with a strong perspective on equity and critical theory, and others whose work engages with disability. The council members are co-creators of disability-related research, educational programming.

Our Disability Studies programming includes curriculum such as a 4-course, 12-credit Disability Studies Graduate Certificate. The courses include Disability Rights and Culture, Disability and Social Policy, Participatory Action Research, and an independent-study Field Placement. These courses are excellent for persons who, to borrow from Rosemarie Garland-Thompson, find themselves "becoming disabled." The courses allow time for self-reflection, self-awareness, and self-identification through structured assignments, significant materials and exposure to a variety of first-person narratives. The course content is multi-disciplinary and includes an intersectional perspective. In practical terms, our universal design approach means that the actual experience of the course varies with the cohort in the course. Of course, as we all know, some students are more interested in using Disability Studies for career advancement and these courses provide an excellent counter-narrative to inject into conversations with, for example: "therapies" such as Art Therapy, Music Therapy, Physical Therapy, Recreational Therapy, etc; Public Health and Health; Public Policy; Special Education.

Not all programming requires tuition. Temple University strives to make significant content free and open to the public. Examples of this include our Mini-Course Lecture Series. We have a fabulous upcoming event in December: Joe Shapiro from NPR is our guest speaker for Mini-Course Lecture Series. Another significant content area is our annual Disability and Change Symposium. Leading up to the Symposium we coordinate a Spring Reading Group for graduate students, faculty, and staff.

It feels like this response is getting a little long-winded so I will conclude with one other exciting differentiator in our Disability Studies program at Temple. We also have employment opportunities! The Institute on Disabilities annually employs approximately 12 Graduate Assistants. The Graduate Assistantships include professional, practical hands-on experience working in the field of developmental disabilities along with disability studies curriculum (Fall policy seminar and Spring reading group mentioned above) and an annual research poster presentation. In conclusion, Disability Studies at Temple is more than academic content and programming, it's a cultural experience.

WP: One of the recent programs that Temple provided free to the public centered around the dance of Alice Sheppard. Can you tell Wordgathering readers a bit about that?

KF: One of the programs of the Institute on Disabilities is "Mini-Course Lecture Series on Disabilities." These "mini-courses" are a terrific way for disability-related academic programming to be made available, for free, to the university and the general public.

This particular event, entitled "Dance, Disability and Discourse" was curated by our Director of Media Arts and Culture, Lisa Sonneborn, and made possible through generous co-sponsorship between our Institute on Disabilities, the Pennsylvania Developmental Disabilities Council, Disability Rights Pennsylvania, and the Institute of Dance Scholarship, Boyer College of Music and Dance, Temple University.

An award-winning choreographer, Alice creates movement that challenges conventional understandings of disabled and dancing bodies. Engaging with disability arts, culture and history, Alice's commissioned work attends to the complex intersections of disability, gender, and race. Alice is the founder and artistic lead for Kinetic Light, a project based collective working at the intersections of architecture, dance, design, identity, and technology to show how mobility – literal, physical, and conceptual – is fundamental to participation in civic life and to American national identity.

The performance and lecture of the featured artist, Alice Sheppard, invited the audience to join in a consideration of race, gender, disability, dance and aesthetics. Alice's solo performance was interspersed with a meditation on artistic practice and a discussion of a disability arts manifesto.

Alice's work exemplifies disability as a positive creative disruption, a voice worthy of including not just to occupy a "seat at the table" but an architect of the table, the room, the discourse. As I'm sure you would agree, this message is something we have to get through to the academe, especially to the academe. It's an idea that takes us beyond the traditional access and inclusion discourse. Chapeau! to Simi Linton ("refer to the link for "Disability, Dance, Artistry"

To see more about this event please refer to the link For more about Alice and her work, please visit the link

While we're talking about the arts and disability-related educational content, I'd like to take a minute to promote some late breaking news regarding exciting upcoming programming. The play, "A Fierce Kind of Love" by Suli Holum, directed by David Bradley, and produced by the Institute on Disabilities will open the new FringeArts High Pressure Fire Service Festival (HPFS) in Spring 2019. There will be five performances offered between March 1 and 3.

A cast of artists with and without disabilities chronicles the largely untold story of Pennsylvania's Intellectual Disability Rights Movement in a remount of this deeply poignant work. Drawing from years of research and the performers' lived experiences, A Fierce Kind of Love combines text, movement, and song to chart the Movement's remarkable history and celebrate the struggle, activism, and fierce love that fuels the desire for dignity. This new iteration of the piece expands on the interviews and research conducted for the 2016 premiere, adding insight to the persistent issues in the disability community. The show, set, and theatrical environment for A Fierce Kind of Loveare completely accessible; ASL interpretation and open captioning are directly integrated into the piece; all performances will be sensory-friendly, audio described and programs will be available in alternate formats. A Fierce Kind of Lovewas made possible with major support from the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage. (for more on this play and the festival, please refer to the link link

It sounds as thought Temple's Institute on Disabilities really has a lot going on and it is great to be able to get some of these events out to the rest of the community. Is there anything you would like to add to what we have said before we finish up?

KF: I've only been in this position for just over two years. What I found here at Temple and the Institute, is a wonderful nexus of interdisciplinary people — students, faculty, staff — who are interested in disability and the lived experience and who want to do the hard work, have the hard conversations, and together work to make a difference on campus and in the world. By way of example, I invite you and your readers to come to our annual Spring Disability and Change Symposium. Our 6th annual symposium will be held March 27th and the theme is "Dis-Enfranchised in Higher Ed: Identity, Advocacy, and Cultural Equity." We invite the Disability Studies scholars, Disability Resources staff as well as area students, faculty, and staff with disabilities to come join the conversation. The agenda is evolving so right now please "save the date!" Our events calendar is located on this link:

Also, if anyone in our region has an upcoming disability studies event, I would love to advertise other local disability studies academic events on this page. Please email events to